Should You Buy and Hold MetLife?

Being able to retire rich, or at least comfortable, is the goal of almost any investor. However, that's much easier said than done. In a recent Wells Fargo survey, respondents between the ages of 50 and 59 said that they had, on average, about $29,000 saved up. With pensions pretty much gone, and Social Security targeted for cuts in the future, it's hard to count on anyone but yourself. But $29,000 isn't going to cut it for most people, so you have to get involved in the stock market to grow that nest egg. Getting in the game is the easy part; choosing the right stocks is the hard part.

Making prudent decisions
Generally speaking, I look for four traits in a retirement stock:

  1. Valuation: Investors of all ages want to make sure they're not overpaying for a stock, but this matters even more in retirement. Retirees don't have the long time horizon that younger investors have, so it's essential to make sure you don't overpay in the short term.
  2. Dividends: Most retirees need a combination of both growth and income, as they'll be depending more and more on their portfolios to help with everyday expenses. Companies that pay dividends not only offer immediate income, but they've also proved to outperform non-paying dividend companies over long periods of time.
  3. Growth: Investors love dividends, but we all want to see our stocks rise over time. Growth can be as big a part of your portfolio as a steady dividend. It's important to note that you don't need a high-flying stock that's going to shoot to the moon; a company that can grow and outperform the market is hard enough to find, so steady growth is highly covetable.
  4. Low volatility: Retirees want to invest in great growth stocks just as much as anyone else does, but they also want to be able to rest well knowing that their portfolio won't be taking them on a roller-coaster ride. Most retirees would rather own a sturdy company that lets them sleep at night than a company that whips up and down with the gyrations of the market.

Although some companies are definitely more geared toward retirees, which companies you choose to invest in will be dictated largely by what you already have in your portfolio. Small, mid-, and large caps can all play a role in your investing strategy, so I've chosen to evaluate all varieties of stocks in this regular series.

So how does MetLife stack up?
To check out the valuation of MetLife   (NYSE: MET  ) , we don't want to look at only its P/E ratio of 15.5. That may seem cheap, but really we don't know without looking at the ratio in historical context. Over the past five years, MetLife 's average P/E ratio has been 12.6, which is less than the current ratio. Investors may be paying more than they've had to in the past, so it's important to find out why the price tag might be a bit higher today.

MetLife's dividend is 1.65%. That might not seem like a whole lot right now, but it has room to grow, so I wouldn't discount its importance. Getting a dividend at all shows a company's dedication to its shareholders, and that's significant.

Next, we want to ensure that MetLife 's stock has the ability to climb over the next five, 10, or 20 years. A company that's growing its net income has the best possible chance to see its share price rise over time. Of course, we can't predict the future, but we can look back to get an idea of how the company has performed in the past to try to ensure future earnings growth. Over the past five years, MetLife has shrunk its net income by 7.92% annually. Unfortunately, the company has run into its share of problems, and the financial collapse of 2008 couldn't have helped. Although it's been unable to grow earnings, that doesn't mean it won't in the future -- although it's certainly not the greatest of signs.

One of the best gauges of volatility is called beta, which measures the impact that the movement of the stock market will have on a particular stock. For instance, a beta of 1.0 signifies that MetLife will move in tandem with the market, a beta of 2.0 means that the stock will move up twice as much as the market, and so on. In this case, MetLife has a beta of 1.44, which is pretty high. Generally speaking, I like to see a beta below 1.2 for retirees.

Let's look at the competition
We've taken a look at MetLife, and maybe you think it's passed all the tests, or maybe you just don't feel comfortable with the results. Whatever the case, it's beneficial to see how a company stacks up in its industry, because it's just as important to understand a company's competitors as it is to understand that particular company. Here are MetLife's stats when compared with three of its closest competitors.

Company

Current P/E

Dividend Yield

5-Year Net Income CAGR

1-Year Beta

MetLife 15.5 1.7% (7.9%) 1.4
Prudential Financial (NYSE: PRU  ) 11.1 1.8% (1.5%) 1.4
CNO Financial Group (NYSE: CNO  ) 7.2 0.0% (0.2%) 2.3
Lincoln National (NYSE: LNC  ) 10.7 0.7% 3.5% 1.9

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Each company has traits to like and traits that leave something to be desired. Either way, it's beneficial to look at the industry picture and not just MetLife in isolation.

Of course, I can't decide for you whether this is the best stock for retirement. It's passed just one of our four tests, so I wouldn't be too bullish on it for someone near or entering retirement. Not that it doesn't have its merits, but I'm quite certain you could find more bang for your retirement buck elsewhere.

Interested in adding any of the companies above to your watchlist? Get the latest commentary and analysis:

Worried about which stocks you should chuck from your portfolio and which ones should stay? Read "Toss These 3 Stocks Out With the Trash."

Jordan DiPietro owns no shares of the companies mentioned here. The Fool owns shares of Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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